Thanks almost exclusively to netminder Rylan Toth, the Red Deer Rebels were less than four minutes away from recording a WHL victory they did not fully deserve.
But in the end justice was served.
Nolan Patrick beat Toth with a bullet to the top of the net to erase a 1-0 Red Deer lead at 16:18 of the third period and then set up Tyler Coulter’s winner just over two minutes later. Just like that, the Brandon Wheat Kings had stormed back to post a 2-1 win before a recorded gathering of 6,122 at the Centrium.
The Wheat Kings, coming off a 4-3 loss the night before at Edmonton, were the superior squad through the majority of Saturday’s outing but were stoned by Toth time and time again. The Rebels’ stopper turned aside 16 shots in the opening period and finished with 35 saves.
Rebels GM/coach Brent Sutter was particularly disappointed with most of his go-to players.
“We weren’t very good here tonight,” Sutter understated.
“Again, your best players have to be your best players — it’s that time of year — and ours weren’t tonight, outside of Jake DeBrusk. I didn’t think that (Michael) Spacek, (Ivan) Nikolishin and (Adam) Helewka were very good.
“We made some key mistakes, some turnovers that we can’t make. When you’re in a 1-0 game you have to be smart and play the game the right way. I just didn’t think we had a full load here tonight. We never pushed like we needed to.
“The disappointing part of it for me is we’ve only played two games in eight days and our effort tonight wasn’t like Brandon’s. At the end of the day we got what we deserved. They were the better hockey team.”
Forced to make seven saves in the first four minutes of the contest, Toth was the busier goaltender. He took a goal away from Macoy Erkamps in the opening period and slid over to rob Ty Lewis in the middle frame … just two of his numerous difficult saves.
With Red Deer on the power play following a checking-to-the-head major and game misconduct assessed to Brandon’s Garrett Armour, Spacek tapped home a loose puck in the crease after Jordan Papirny made a stop on DeBrusk, giving the Rebels a lead 8:57 into the contest. The Wheat Kings goaltender didn’t surrender another goal and turned aside a total of 22 shots.
Sutter was appreciative of Toth’s performance.
“Tother was outstanding,” said the Rebels boss. “Like I told the kids after the game, if it wasn’t for Tother we could have easily been down five goals after the first 30 minutes. He made some fantastic saves.”
Toth was the victim of a back-door play on the winner, as Patrick, from behind the Red Deer net, threw the puck out front and found an unchecked Coulter. The net was open as Toth, under the impression the play was coming the other way, left his post.
Wheat Kings GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon wouldn’t comment on whether his team was hands down the dominant side.
“I can’t say that, but I will say that win, lose or draw, I was happy with how we played,” he said. “We were ready to play after last night’s loss. I was encouraged with how we responded after a game in which we weren’t as good.
“It was interesting. We had some great chances right off the bat and he (Toth) made some tremendous saves. Then we were down 1-0 and for the next 50 minutes we were chasing it a bit. But I thought our guys hung in good.”
Sutter, with a roster that compares favourably to Brandon’s, didn’t see the same persistence from his squad.
“From a coach’s perspective, I just can’t accept our team playing like that,” he said. “It’s unacceptable when you have a group like we have to not play like we have to play, and that starts with our best players.
“Tonight we never got that push from our top guys and it hurt us at the end of the game.”
The Rebels are idle until Friday when they face the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook. Red Deer is at home to the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday.